The Ocean View Board of Adjustment is expected to vote next week on an application requesting a special-use exception that would allow for a wildlife-learning center in a General Business-1 parcel in town.
The board originally deferred its vote on the application at its regular monthly meeting in May.
Barn Hill Preserve currently offers educational programs throughout the states of Delaware, Louisiana and beyond. The group is hoping to open an education center at 23 Atlantic Ave.
Co-owner Josh Mueller, a Bethany Beach native, graduated from Louisiana State University, where he studied wildlife ecology.
“It wasn’t as exotic as what I deal with now,” he said. “We learned about trees, birds, reptiles, mammals… Anything that could possibly do with the Earth, we learned about.”
While in college, Mueller interned at Barn Hill’s first location, fell in love with the work and became a partner.
“The more I was there, I realized, growing up, I never got an opportunity like this,” he said. “We don’t really have anything like what Barn Hill Preserve offers or any animal place could offer.”
In a packet presented to the board, the types of animals proposed for the facility include a red kangaroo, common parakeet, tayra (weasel), Eurasian lynx, Asian small-clawed otters, sulcata tortoise, Patagonian cavies and the Linneaus’ two-toed sloth.
For safety and security, according to Barn Hill, each animal enclosure will have an airlock-style entry system (without literally locking out air) that consists of two doors, walls on all sides and a roof. There will also be an additional barrier fence 3 feet from all animal enclosures, and all enclosures will be secured with a lock with keys only accessible to the animal keepers.
There would also be a 6- to 8-foot fence surrounding the property.
In case of inclement weather, each enclosure would have a lockdown house, to provide shelter to the animals.
Some people in town are not convinced on the project, however.
“Everyone I am talking to is absolutely outraged,” said Connie Marshall owner of All About Birds, whose commercial parcel is adjacent to the applicant’s proposed location.
Marshall has gone so far to create a petition against the application (which is in various local businesses), and is handing out informational packets to anyone interested who walks into her store. She has even created “No zoo for Ocean View” signs.
When she first heard of the application, Marshall said she wasn’t opposed, as she thought it would be similar to the Bethan Beach Nature Center, where animals are brought to the site. However, when she saw the site plan she was “sick to her stomach”
“It’s a wide-open field. There’s no natural habitat for these animals,” she said. “As people are finding out, they are outraged.”
Mueller says that having one-on-one interaction with animals is key to education and preservation.
“You just get a strong connection to the animals that way,” he said. “We don’t consider ourselves a zoo. We don’t want that distance between humans and animals. Our goal is to encourage people to work with the animals and to help them. That’s where the conservation is really strong with us.”
Mueller said they call it a wildlife learning center because they plan to teach people about wildlife.
“Everything is going to be hands-on for the most part, guided by one of our trained professionals.”
The public record is now closed, meaning no one in favor or opposition may speak to the board regarding the application.
Town Solicitor Dennis Schrader noted the Board of Adjustment is a semi-judicial board, and follows strict guidelines related to the public record. While Marshall may provide the petition to the board for the application’s file, it will not be considered as the board votes.
The Ocean View Board of Adjustment will meet on Thursday, July 19, at 6 p.m. at town hall.
By Maria Counts